Uncertainty adds hurdle to Canadiens’ training camp strategy: Ducharme

Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Dominique Ducharme talks strategy with Joel Armia, left, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi during third period of game against the Florida Panthers in Montreal on Jan. 15, 2019.

John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Dominique Ducharme is ready to start working on the new NHL season, but the Canadiens’ assistant coach says it’s difficult because of the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard to plan a training camp when you don’t know how many days you’re going to have and under what conditions the players are going to arrive,” Ducharme said during a video conference call Monday.

“We talk at the start of the season about staying healthy and avoiding injuries, and we add one more element,” said Ducharme. “But, when we came back during the playoffs, the league did an excellent job and we hope everything will go well again.”

Ducharme said the NHL can benefit by looking at what is happening in other sports.

“If you look at the NFL, there are teams affected and they have to adjust the schedule,” said Ducharme. “You have to see the conditions when you come back. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen.”

The Denver Broncos had to use a practice squad wide receiver at quarterback Sunday and lost 31-3 loss after QBs Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were pulled off the practice field Saturday and sent home when the NFL deemed them high-risk close contacts of fellow QB Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for the coronavirus last Thursday. That raises the question of what would happen if an NHL team lost both of its goaltenders.

“We will have to look to have a plan, not only with the tests and isolation, but also ways to protect our team and avoid having too many players (getting sick),” said Ducharme.


Ducharme, who coached Canada at the 2017 and 2018 world junior championships, noted Hockey Canada suspended its junior training camp in Red Deer, Alta., for 14 days after two players tested positive for COVID-19. He said he didn’t expect that to be problem leading up to the tournament, which begins on Christmas Day. He said he had faith in head coach André Tourigny and praised Hockey Canada’s decision to start the camp early.

“It gave them the time to resolve such a crisis internally,” said Ducharme. “Since there are a lot of players who weren’t playing in the country — there was only the QMJHL playing a season — they took this opportunity (and) it gives them time to prepare well.”

He said the addition of Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli won’t change the style of the team, but believes the newcomers will add speed and offensive talent that could make the power play more dangerous. 

“They bring variety,” Ducharme said. “They are a little different from the players already in place, both in physical appearance and in the quality of scoring goals. I don’t think we are going to change everything offensively, but these are tools that will bring advantages on the offensive level.”

“I think it helps all of our forwards,” he added. “We have four very interesting lines so that will give us options to find the combinations that work the best. And, at the same time, we will have to do it quickly, but we have options.”

Ducharme said he and the other member of head coach Claude Julien’s staff are using the hiatus to prepare for an expected move to a Canadian division, which will provide them with new rivals.

“It’s not that different,” said Ducharme. “There are good teams in Canada, there are some good teams in other divisions. Sometimes, the style of play is a bit different from team to team. From there, it’s up to us to be better, to play our way to be successful.”




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